Travelling through fields of gold sunflowers in full bloom is an experience like no other.
Forget the tall green corn stalks of Veneto, where I currently live. Don’t even mention the gilt wheat fields of Burgundy which I had crossed only a few days before. Indeed, they had been beautiful to look at, but were not loaded with the same emotions gripping just now at my throat and almost making me well with memories of journeys past.
I was now in my home country of Bulgaria and on both sides of the road stood countless sunflowers. Long stems crowned by a big yellow-orange head with a dark brown centre swayed in the gentle breeze under the scorching sun which they followed with an adoring gaze.
Vast fields of gold stretched out on both sides of the car as we were driving to the Stone Forest just outside of my home town of Varna.
Seeing them reminded me of coming home to Varna on the train from Sofia – the Bulgarian capital – where I was doing my Master’s several years ago. The journey took eight and half hours – excruciating and boring most of them – on the fast train which would puff and splutter its way across the country at the non-Shinkansen speed of 60 km/h.
I would spend the time reading a book or two, followed by several magazines and newspapers and would invariably arrive bored and tired home.
In summer, the sunflower fields were the only saving grace of the journey. About two hours away from Varna they would start and would not stop for miles on end. Yellow bursts of colour would surround the train on both sides of the track, running all the way to the horizon.
They were mesmerising to watch.
Their heads would imperceptibly turn, following the sun until, all of a sudden, the sunflowers in the whole field would point in exactly the same direction.
Seated in the train compartment, which would empty and then fill again all through the journey, I would wait until I was on my own and then throw the windows open wide. A refreshing breeze would rumple my long hair. I would toss the book aside and spend long moments simply looking at the sunflower fields offset by the bright blue sky.
Once back in Varna, in the evening my family and I would sit to have dinner together and talk about my studies in Sofia and the things I had missed happening back home.
My mum would serve my favourite dishes, all prepared with a generous splash or two of sunflower oil. The food tasted delicious and the gold liquid which salads and roasted meats were generously bathed in still had the reflections of the summer sun.